AS leaders representing thousands of rural post offices lobby the Government today (Wed), it has been revealed than more than four million people have signed a petition against widespread closures.
Rural Post Offices fight for survival
The Labour Government gave £150 million a year in special aid for country post offices - often the only shop in a village - as a vote saving measure before the last General Election but one. But those special grants are due to run out next year and it is widely believed that as many as 4,000 offices could be forced to close down because they are losing money.
Over the years, Whitehall has chipped away at post office revenues by taking away fee-paying services which were often the difference between a small profit and bankruptcy. They have largely taken away the payment of pensions and other state benefits and even relatively minor items like fishing licences.
In the latest blow, it is now no longer possible to buy a television licence at a post office, a matter that will be raised today when the National Federation of Subpostmasters stages a protest lobby at Westminster.
But the prognosis is gloomy, according to industry experts. The Royal Mail has just revealed that it only needs some 4,000 sub post offices to maintain the postal delivery system - roughly a half of the current total.
In another move likely to cause dismay people in rural areas, its is rumoured that the National Health Service is preparing to close 80 cottage hospitals despite the fact that, during the last General Election, it promised to open many more.
Sir, I am a frequent visitor to your area, having a caravan based at Stainforth - a beautiful area and just the place to unwind.
May I pass on a couple of observations regarding the closure of post offices in rural areas - a national disgrace.
1: People walking the Pennine Way or other long distance trails do not want to carry large sums of cash in their wallets or purses. Cash machines are few and far between, and many of those have a fixed charge irrespective of the small amount required. When my son and myself walked the Pennine Way we opened a Post Office Bank Account because, in 1995, there was a post office in almost each village where cash could be withdrawn, parcels collected or posted etc etc. That facility has now all but disappeared.
2: With the closure of rural post offices the Post Office Ltd has lost local knowledge and contact. For example, in 2004 I was in the bar of the Craven Heifer Hotel, Main Street, Stainforth, enjoying my usual pint of Bomber when the windows were blacked out and a furniture delivery van driver walked in. He was asking for a local address - and no-one recognised the name of the lady or her cottage. Pat, the Licensee, then had a bright idea. She telephoned next door to the Stainforth Post Office. Despite it being 6-30p.m. and the fact she was putting her husband's dinner on the table the postmistress took the call and provided the answer..... the address belonged to a young woman who had only recently moved into the village and had changed the name of the cottage. Of course everyone in the Craven Heifer then knew its location and the van driver was given his directions. Stainforth Post Office has since closed.
The local knowledge held by the postmistress, and thousands like her, has now disappeared as has the excellent service they provided to the community in other ways than simply post office matters. If the same situation occurred today the vanload of furniture would have to go back to the factory.
With the closure of 'high street banks' it is more vital than ever that rural post offices remain - or even re-open. Politicians are very ingenious at finding ways of extracting taxation from us - let them find innovative ways of keeping rural post ofices open.
Best wishes..... Neil
Neil Longsden - Rochdale, Lancashire
Post offices are no longer needed in small rural villages. They are expensive for the tax payer, and offer no service that can't be done via the internet, telephone or post!!
The local corner shop that they are found in brings traffic consisting of huge delivery lorries and cars causing parking and noise problems and the prices in these shops are too high.
Village halls and churches provide the same social interaction. I for one am reluctant to pay £17 subsidy per person so they can use a local post office. We should pump the saved money into our hospitals and schools!!!
Jane Hammington - West Sussex
Jane - Try this when you want to post all your Christmas packages, letters, cards etc to your friends and relatives in the UK, or even worse overseas when you have absoluteley no idea what it will cost or what's needed to be completed for each country. The Royal Mail will not send out of the country any underpaid items and cannot return most to sender.
Try this when the DVLA computer has gone down as it has several times recently and you need your car taxed.
Try this when your family have no money to live on, you need the last £30 from your account, the nearest bank is 9 miles away and the local cash machine charges £1.50 to give you your own money. Will your bank send your money by post?
Maybe not everyone is as well appointed as you with computers and apparently easy access to transport.